What you need to know
Mayor Lu Shiow-yen is battling the central government over funding for a new circular railway line.
By Liang Minghao (梁銘浩)
When the new Mayor of Taichung, Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕), took office on Dec. 25, 2018, she had the intention to stop the construction of the Greater Taichung Shanshou Line due to a disagreement over central government subsidies for the project.
Does her opposition to the project stem from a lack of long-term vision for her city, or does she have well-intentioned political calculations? Regardless of her motives, opposing the Shanshou Line (山手線) represents a short-sighted, narrow-minded mentality toward the well-being of the people of Taichung.
The Shanshou Line can be considered the centerpiece of the transportation infrastructure projects of previous mayor Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍). Its main objective: To connect two separate TRA railway lines, the mountain and coastal lines, that lay on opposite sides of Taichung, with a view towards combining them with the Blue and Green lines of the MRT to form a complete urban transportation system encircling the city and including the coastal line into the future development of the Greater Taichung area.
Circular transportation lines are nothing new in foreign countries as they act as stable transportation system operating efficiently with set operation times, allowing for large numbers of commuters to accurately plan their journeys through and around the city.
In Taichung, the circular line will systematically link various points in the greater metropolitan area helping to increase the freedom and movement of people, resources and even investment for those living around both the coastal and mountain lines. It will bring urban and rural areas closer together and create a much-needed balance in the development of areas around the city. If the system’s coverage is further improved, then even northern Changhua and southern Miaoli could potentially be incorporated into its development.
Although the Shanshou Line’s huge construction cost has left people questioning whether it is an urgent need, or if it will bring any economic benefits, the fact remains that the circular line will create a state-of-the-art transportation system and act as a major step towards the goal of creating a green and modernized Taichung.
In the past, Taiwan’s infrastructure development was never geared towards environmental protection. Instead, it advocated American-style automobile-centered traffic standards and focused on the construction of large road networks, with wide and straight roads acting as symbols of a city’s progress and modernization.
However, Taichung is a relatively small and dense city, leading to an army of automobiles cramping its streets and emitting greenhouse gases. Mayor Lu herself nodded to Taichung’s pollution problem when she channeled her inner Chen Guangbiao and handed out bottles of air at her inauguration ceremony, sparking a social media uproar.
In addition, Taichung suffers from horrendous traffic congestion and sees frequent automobile accidents. Coupled with boundless motorcycles weaving throughout the traffic and a scarcity of parking spaces, driving in Taichung has become an abject nightmare.
In Taiwan, and especially in Taichung, cars have replaced humans as the lords of urban spaces, pushing the rights of pedestrians to the very bottom of the list of public concerns.
So how imperative is the Shanshou Line for Taichung? We can look towards developed countries that have public rail transportation: Tokyo’s Yamanote Line was planned and constructed in quick succession in 1920s, the Paris Metro was completed in 1900, and the New York Subway started operating in 1904.
Even though the populations of each of those cities were relatively small at those times, they had already estimated the scale of each city’s development and preemptively built transportation systems to cope with the growth. Had they waited for a population boom before addressing an increased transportation demand, it would have required each city to invest extra money and manpower to overcome the obstacles created by the increased size and scale of the city. Therefore, the later we wait to construct these transportation projects, the more debilitating the costs will be. (Look no further than New York’s hellish Second Avenue subway project for an example.)
Taichung’s traffic situation, at present, has not yet encountered extreme problems, but it is rapidly becoming congested and polluted, especially in heavily populated surrounding suburban towns where the situation is going from bad to worse. This is proof that transforming the transportation layout of the Greater Taichung area is the only prescription capable of curing the problems that the city will face due to its future increase in population.
Mass transit systems, such as the Shanshou Line, have become the backbone of transportation in Europe’s smaller developed countries. Even a city such as Vienna, which at 1.72 million residents has a smaller population than Taichung’s 2.797 million, has a larger city area where there are already raised railways and light rail systems. Public transport accounts for 68 percent of the transportation market. In Copenhagen, public transport for the population of 1.2 million takes up 70 percent of the market share. Frankfurt, Germany only has 700,000 people, but public transport accounts for up to 65 percent of the market share.
Even in Taiwan’s best example, Taipei, which has close to three million people living within the city limits, public transportation only makes up about 58 percent of the market. Other Taiwanese cities can be thought of as public transportation deserts – and the private transportation focused cities of today are the consequences of short-sightedness and miscalculated transportation needs by this country’s past governments.
Taichung is already the second largest city in Taiwan, and due to its aging population, the city will only continue to increase in size in the future. There is a need to integrate all resources. The most appropriate solution to addressing this aging society that will no longer be able to effectively operate private transportation is having a well built and efficient mass transit system.
In his book “Eleven-Dollar Train Trips,” the nature writer Liu Ka-shiang (劉克襄) shares his motto about the significance of trains, which he writes “trundle across the railways, carrying vast amounts of people to their destinations, without emitting thick black plumes of smoke... whereas their predecessors, the old fleeting invention of the steam engine, required the burning of huge amounts of fossil fuels just to transport one or two people.”
Railways are more environmentally friendly, he writes, as they “do not easily follow the rise and fall of mountain landscapes, something which seemed to slow down humankind’s destruction of the land.”
Environmentally friendly rail transportation will thus help drive technology promoting the development of low-carbon vehicles. Once the backbone of Taichung’s transportation plans, the Shanshou Line, is established, it will possible to incorporate light rail routes to branch out into more remote areas, introduce electric buses for mid-distance connections, and then install a network of public bicycles for even shorter distances. It will then become possible to construct longer and better-quality bicycle lanes, pedestrian areas, or even roadways including newly developed green vehicles. The changes in the public transportation system will, in turn, transform the lives and habits of the people in Taichung, creating a more human-centric environment that is greener, more relaxed and progressive, making Taichung a city for people and not just for cars.
Liu Ka-shiang compares public transportation to a bow compass – from each station, it “slowly draws out a radius or circle, measuring out each city, village and town as I pass by.” Only be reducing the number of private transportation vehicles on the roads, he argues, will we be able to create a high-quality living environment and give pedestrians back their rights to the roads.
The way we choose to travel can revolutionize the way we live, bringing changes to our habits and cultures. With every trip, there is always a more environmentally friendly choice if we focus on sustainable development. The Shanshou Line is a way of molding a completely new way of life through the construction of transportation links. Perhaps Taichung will be able to put into practice the advanced theory of pedestrian priority, like the small European countries, giving the old and the young of Taichung the ability to travel leisurely in fresh air, under green leaves, and along pedestrian paths, strolling aimlessly through beautiful landscapes and fresh, clean air every day.
As citizens of Taichung, we are all looking forward to the Shanshou Line.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The News Lens.
This article originally appeared on the Chinese-language Taiwan edition of The News Lens. The original can be found here.
Translator: Zeke Li
Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)
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